Chilliwack takes aim at vacant buildings

Chilliwack is taking steps to discourage property owners from allowing their buildings to remain vacant for extended periods of time.

The former Safeway site in downtown Chilliwack.

The City of Chilliwack is taking steps to discourage property owners from allowing their buildings to remain vacant and unsightly for extended periods of time.

Citing specific examples like the vacant Safeway building on Main Street, and the former courthouse on Wellington Avenue, the city wants to charge land owners $3,500 for a 24-month permit if their building is empty and unfit for occupation. They would also pay $630 in inspection fees, as well as $1,500 for each additional vacant building.

Owners will also be required to obtain $2 million in liability insurance, and allow city officials to inspect the property regularly to ensure it is neither an eyesore nor a public hazard.

Failure to comply with the bylaw could result in a fine of up to $10,000.

The fees and requirements are intended, said city staff, “to be substantive enough to be a deterrent to building owners who make the choice to keep their buildings vacant long-term and have no incentive to use, improve or redevelop their buildings.”

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz welcomed the move. She said it will provide “one more tool that will help us ensure buildings are well used and kept by their owners and not allowed to just fall into decay.”

Vacant buildings not only sap the life and vitality from a neighbourhood, she said, they pose serious threats to public safety.

Chilliwack is not alone in its concern, said councillor Jason Lum. It has been one of the more vocal cities pursuing a solution to abandoned properties in urban centres — often with off-shore, or out-of-town owners.

The Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce has pressed the BC Chamber of Commerce to keep the issue at the fore and has assisted the city by providing resources and expertise, he said.

Lum said the proposed bylaw was a welcomed first step, but he wondered if the fees would be sufficient to deter some owners from allowing their properties from falling into disrepair.

He suggested that the Chamber have the opportunity to comment on the proposed bylaw, in addition to CEPCO and the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board.

Introduction of the bylaw was part of a series of initiatives outlined at Tuesday’s council meeting aimed at downtown revitalization. Councillors were also briefed on the work currently underway to make Mill Street more pedestrian friendly, and plans to add more green space on Main Street, from Wellington to Spadina.

Council also unanimously backed a decision to demolish the Irwin Block at Young and Yale in Five Corners.

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